Planning your trip to Tokyo?  Read insider tips for the unusual things to do in Tokyo for those looking to get off the beaten path in Tokyo.

Kiyoko Hall, a blogger and dreamer, helps travelers streamline their travel planning process and inspires them to visit new places.

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Thanks to Kiyoko from Footsteps of a Dreamer, who lived in Tokyo, for her insider tips on the best five cultural experiences in Tokyo.

Tokyo is considered the largest city in the world, meaning that getting to experience the whole city can be quite the challenge, especially if you’re limited on time. If it’s your first time in Tokyo (and especially if it’s your first time in Japan), I recommend to spend your time delving into Japanese culture in Tokyo and seeing some of the highlights of the city.   In this post, you’ll find information about five alternative/unusual things to do in Tokyo that will allow you to immerse yourself in Japanese culture.

Five unusual things to do in Tokyo:

  • Attend a traditional festival 

  • See a Taiko Performance

  • Take a Futuristic Boat Ride

  • Get an epic view of Tokyo from above

  • Learn origami at Origami Kaikan

Attend a Festival

Matsuri, or festivals, are a must if you want to really get a feel for Japanese culture. They tend to vary in form from place to place and festival to festival. However, common items include food stalls and floats or mikoshi (portable shrines). 

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If you’re in Tokyo at the right time, I highly recommend attending Sanja Matsuri festival in Tokyo. It honors the three men who are enshrined in Asakusa Shrine, which is next to the Senso-ji temple and this festival in Tokyo is considered one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo.

All sorts of food stalls with okonomiyaki (diced octopus in a pancake like batter), ice cream, and more delicious food are set up around the busy shopping street of Nakamise-dori.  As you wander around the shrine grounds, you can see various forms of entertainment, from traditional geisha dances to comedy skits to taiko performances.

See a Taiko Performance

Taiko” in Japanese typically refers to a specific type of drum, but outside of Japan, it has come to be used in reference to any type of Japanese drum. Unlike other musical ensembles, Taiko is typically not a performance that you can just go see any time in a theater. Instead, Taiko is usually performed during summer festivals.

Personally, I loved watching Taiko because it so unlike anything I’d heard before. Plus, the players are just as entertaining to watch as they are to listen to. Can’t make it to Sanja Matsuri? Check out Tokyo’s website to see all other upcoming events and festivals.

Take a Futuristic Boat Ride

This is one of those “only in Japan” experiences. Designed by well known anime and manga creator Leiji Matsumoto, the Himiko boat definitely does not look like your traditional boat. The boat is completely enclosed, and is mainly made of glass, allowing you to enjoy the scenes you are passing.  During the ride, there is an anime-like commentary, but unfortunately the commentary is entirely in Japanese.

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NOTE: If the weather is nice, consider riding on the Hotaluna boat instead. It is the exact same as the Himiko boat except is has a rooftop that you can sit on.  There are several other “Water Bus” services if you aren’t interested in riding the Himiko and Hotaluna boats or have other destinations in mind. The Tokyo Cruise Ship Company offers rides between the Asakusa Pier, Odaiba Pier, Hinode Pier, and Hama Rikyu Pier. The rates and times vary by route.

The Himiko and Hotaluna boats are operated by the Tokyo Cruise Ship Company and offers ferries between Asakusa and Odaiba. A one-way ride takes about 50 minutes and costs ¥1560 yen (about $14 USD or 11.5 EUR). It’s a little expensive for a ferry ride, but well worth the experience.   You can get more information about the boats and routes on Tokyo Cruise Ship Company’s website.

Get a view of the city

There are several different observatory-like places to get a good overlook of the city. Which one is best depends on what kind of experience you are looking for.   

At the top of the metropolitan government offices in Shinjuku are FREE observatories. Both observatories stand 202-meters high. I recommend visiting simply because they free and offer great views. However, the windows were a little dirty when I went, and the view point isn’t as high as some of the other observatories, so if you are a photographer, I also suggest looking into my other recommendations.

Tokyo tower, which looks incredibly similar to the Eiffel Tower in France, is the second tallest structure in Japan. It also offers two observation decks, the Main Observatory (150 meters high) and the Special Observatory (250 meters high). The Main Observatory has all sorts of extra additions, including a souvenir shop, café, and even a shrine. It also has a small square, glass-covered opening in the floor allowing you to look down at the ground and see how truly high up you are. The Special Observatory costs a little bit extra, but is worth it if you’re looking to get a good picture of the city.

At 634 meters, Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure. Similar to Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree also has two observation floors. The first is the Tembo Deck at 350 meters, and the second is the Tembo Galleria at 450 meters. Not surprisingly, tickets for Tokyo Skytree are more expensive, but if you’re a photographer, or just want to be able to say you went up in the tallest tower in the world, it’s worth the price. There is no time limit for how long you can be up in the tower, so I chose to go a little before sunset in order to get a good view of the city during the day, and then hung around until after sunset so I could see the city lit up at night.

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Learn origami at Origami Kaikan

Origami from Japan. Read about five cultural things to do in Tokyo Japan to help you explore Japanese culture! #travel #Japan

Photo by Bobo Ling/bigstockphoto

Japan is well known for their origami, and in Bunkyo, Tokyo there is a whole building dedicated to showcasing it. The first and second floors of Origami Kaikan are galleries showcasing various creations made entirely from folding paper. On the fourth floor, you can get a behind the scenes look into how origami paper is made. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try origami for yourself, you can purchase one of the origami books (written in Japanese) from the shop, or you can even take one of the lessons held there at Origami Kaikan (conducted in Japanese).

Have you been to Tokyo? Any other unusual things to do in Tokyo that you’d recommend?

Keep reading tips for visiting Japan on a budget, things to do in Osaka, and the most beautiful temples in Kyoto.

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About the author

Travel writer about Japan

Kiyoko Hall, a blogger and dreamer, helps travelers streamline their travel planning process and inspires them to visit new places. Prepare for your next trip to Japan with her list of essential Japan travel apps!
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